Sara Hildreth is a reader, writer, and educator, as well as the co-host of Novel Pairings—a bookish podcast dedicated to diversifying the canon and putting contemporary literature into conversation with the classics. Find her on Instagram at @fictionmatters!
We’re currently living in a golden age of young adult literature, so it’s no wonder so many YA books have gained popularity among teen and adult readers alike. YA authors are exploring difficult topics, creating unforgettable characters, bending genre conventions, and writing with style. Whether you’re a teen or adult reader, new to YA or comfortable in the genre, YA and audiobooks are a winning combination. And if you aren’t interested in adding young adult titles to your own listening queue, encouraging the young readers in your life to explore books on audio can be incredibly beneficial to bolstering literacy and encouraging lifelong reading.
Here are five reasons to try YA on audio yourself or download an audiobook for your favorite teen reader:
1. Audiobooks let you immerse yourself in the drama.
There’s no denying that young adult books can be heavy on the drama. From stories of first love to teen characters confronting social issues, the plots and conflicts of YA novels are often written to feel big and bold. For adult readers, the high drama of the teenage worlds in books like Jenny Lee’s Anna K can occasionally feel over-the-top and take you out of the book. In my own reading life, audiobooks help me not just get over, but get into this level of drama. Audio narrators’ use of different character voices and exaggerated tones make those dramatic scenes more entertaining, but also more real. For teen readers, experiencing a dramatic story like Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite on audio may raise the stakes of the plot and increase their investment in the characters as narrators bring these worlds to life.
From stories of first love to teen characters confronting social issues, the plots and conflicts of YA novels are often written to feel big and bold.
2. Explore important topics through a youth-oriented lens.
Looking at catalogues of recent and upcoming releases, it often feels like young adult authors are leading the charge towards a diversity of stories. Young adult books in both the fiction and nonfiction genres are examining topics like systemic racism, police violence, school shootings, transgender rights, and so much more. Downloading an audiobook that will help the teens in your life see their lived experience reflected back to them or learn about a topic that exists apart from their day-to-day reality can be a great way to help them engage with the world apart from the divisiveness of the daily headlines. Adults and teen readers alike can benefit from and enjoy listening to fiction that explores a range of experiences such as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. And listening to nonfiction audiobooks like Stamped by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds or All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson can also be a great way for families with teens to explore social topics together and provide fuel for ongoing discussions.
Looking at catalogues of recent and upcoming releases, it often feels like young adult authors are leading the charge towards a diversity of stories.
3. To hear the characters’ “voiciness.”
One thing I, and many other readers, love about YA is the voiciness of the characters. Voiciness is a term invented by book reviewers to describe the way a book feels when the characters’ unique voices make them feel like living people or when the narrator’s voice is as compelling and evocative as the story itself. Young adult novels tend to be particularly voicey because teens have big feelings and express those with tremendous urgency. The best YA authors capture that moment in time perfectly and, in cases like On the Come Up by Angie Thomas and SLAY by Brittney Morris, audiobook narrators can enhance the voices of these characters even more.
Young adult novels tend to be particularly voicey because teens have big feelings and express those with tremendous urgency. The best YA authors capture that moment in time perfectly
4. Audiobooks remind young readers that reading is fun.
For many readers, the teenage years are when reading transitions from being fun to being work. Books featured in school curriculum are more challenging, harder to access, and, quite often, focused on adult themes and experiences. Reading challenging books is great for readers of all ages, but it’s heartbreaking to see a once avid reader begin to view reading solely as a chore. Introducing audiobooks is an easy and transformational way to remind young readers that reading can be fun. Because audiobooks can be fit into the day through multitasking, they don’t make unreasonable demands on teenagers’ time. And thanks to the high-quality productions of contemporary audiobooks, reading a book like Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley or Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi via audio truly feels like entertainment.
Introducing audiobooks is an easy and transformational way to remind young readers that reading can be fun.
5. YA plus audio is a great way to explore new genres.
I rely on audiobooks for all age demographics as a way to help me explore new genres, but YA audiobooks are particularly great for this. Because YA books can tend to be simultaneously more straightforward in plot and more descriptive in world-building, they make for a particularly good way to try an unfamiliar genre. This is true for teens and adults alike. If you’re new to novels in verse try listening to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you want your teen to try more realistic fiction, download Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi. Or try out a memoir with Sungju Lee’s Every Falling Star. Any genre you may want to explore yourself or introduce to your teen is available in young adult format and audio is an easy and enjoyable way to verge into new literary territory.